May 31

Filmmakers Jennene and Dave Riggs have been filming and editing wildlife documentaries for over 17 years, and have worked with a vast array of species in their careers, from dangerous sharks, orcas and crocodiles to gentle dugongs and bandicoots. The pair are currently working on a new documentary about one of the most endangered bird species in the world, the western ground parrot. We caught up with Jennene who told us all about the species and how filming is going.

Secrets at Sunrise TITLE -®Riggs Australia copy 2

Secrets at Sunrise promo image with western ground parrot. Credit: Riggs Australia

What is your newest film about?

I’m currently producing a documentary called ‘Secrets at Sunrise’ which is the story of the amazing work that a team of people are doing on the south coast of Western Australia to save some of our most endangered native species from the onslaught of feral animals that predate them, and a whole suite of other threats to their survival. The focus of the film, and perhaps the most vulnerable of all these creatures is the western ground parrot which is Critically Endangered and only found in one location.

Why did you choose the western ground parrot as the topic of your film?

The dire situation with the western ground parrot is symbolic of the global issue of species extinctions and how we are losing so many animals and plants every year. We are in the middle of the sixth great extinction and it’s important to raise awareness of this and get people thinking about their own impact on our natural world.

I first heard about the western ground parrot when I was producing a documentary in 2013 on the incredible biodiversity and natural history of the south coast of WA called ‘Remote & Rugged’. During my research for that film I became aware of the wonderful work that volunteers from the community and staff from the Western Australia Department of Parks & Wildlife are doing to save the parrot from extinction, so I organised to go out on one of their field trips and film a sequence to include in the film.

On this first field trip I saw just how determined these people are and was so impressed by their dedication to saving this critically endangered bird. I could see a remarkable story unfolding, one of camaraderie and friendship despite the challenges of working with this incredibly rare bird in such an isolated location.

WGP recovery team -®Jennene Riggs

Western ground parrot recovery team. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Why is the western ground parrot so endangered?

The western ground parrot was never prolific in numbers, but it used to be quite widespread in its range – on the coastal plain from north of Perth to east of Esperance on the south coast (a distance spanning over 1000km) but since European settlement there are a number of things that have caused its decline.

Historically throughout their heathland habitat there was a lot of land clearing for development and agriculture, resulting in a loss of suitable places for them to live. Then much of their remaining habitat has been damaged by wildfire, which further reduced suitable habitat and exposed the surviving populations to predation by feral cats and foxes. There were thought to be only around 140 individuals left, although that was before a devastating series of wildfires tore through their habitat in October and November 2015.

What does the future look like for this endangered bird species?

There is hope! Several years ago some parrots were taken into captivity and these birds have now been transferred to the Perth Zoo. Specialist staff there are working to try and encourage them to breed, and if they’re successful, this could form the basis of a captive breeding program which might enable the reintroduction of western ground parrots into areas they’ve disappeared from in the wild.

Can you tell us more about the film?

My main character in the story is a strong female leader – Sarah Comer – the regional ecologist at Department of Parks and Wildlife. She’s amazing…a dynamic and tireless optimist, determined to see this species and its environment survive and thrive.

There are lots of challenges in filming Secrets at Sunrise – obviously our main subject is an extremely rare bird, so straight up that presents an issue. Coupled with that they are also very shy and secretive. Many of the researchers have stories of how they’d been working on western ground parrots for five or ten years before they actually saw one! Imagine that!!

Because of this, the best way to survey their numbers and monitor them is to listen out for their calls when they move from their nighttime roost to their daytime feeding ground (and vice versa). Their ‘peak calling hours’ are an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, which means you have to adopt their very unsociable hours.

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming

Jennene Riggs and Anne Morcombe filming. Credit: Sarah Comer

Then there are the conditions of the location too. Cape Arid is very remote, a couple of hours drive from Esperance (which itself is an eight hour drive from Perth – the states capital city). The tracks they drive along to get to the birds are rough, bumpy, boggy bush tracks.

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Jennene walking along one of the tracks to filming location. Credit: Riggs Australia

Depending of what time of year a survey is, you’ve also got environmental challenges. Obviously in summer it can get scorching hot, and there’s no relief to be had sitting in your tent, its even hotter in there. The flies can get pretty friendly then. You get to about day four of no shower out there, and then things start to get a bit on the nose.

On the opposite scale of that is camping in winter. It’s freezing! Your nose won’t stop dripping while you’re doing the mornings listening surveys and it feels like frostbite’s about to claim your fingers and ears. One trip I filmed we had a thunder and lightning storm centered right over the top of us, and a torrential downpour turned the campsite into a swamp.

It sounds very challenging! What has been your favourite part of filming so far?

Despite all the challenges, I love being out there and feeling so connected with nature. The bond between the researchers is amazing as well. They’ve been doing this together for many years now and they get volunteers from all over Australia and the world coming back year after year to participate and help survey the wildlife because it’s such a special and important thing to be a part of.

As part of the story I’ve also been filming the team conduct ongoing surveys of other species inhabiting the area, and this is secretly the best part of the job because you get these incredibly gorgeous creatures like honey possums, bandicoots, dunnarts, ash grey mice, burrowing frogs, legless lizards, all sorts of invertebrates, and probably least favorite of all but most prolific are bush rats… and to be honest, as far as rats go, they’re pretty cute.

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

Ash grey mouse. Credit: Jennene Riggs

The main outcome I’m hoping for with this film is to show how special and valuable our wildlife, national parks and remaining tracts of native bush are, and the lengths that some people will go to in preserving that biodiversity. Some people might think that losing one species from the environment is not such a big deal, but it is. Everything in nature has its place and when something is taken out of that equation it has a flow-on effect. Who’d want to live in a world with no pandas and orangutans, or clean rivers and air, or beautiful heathland with western ground parrots hiding amongst it? Not me!

I’m lucky to have had the support of the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot, who are just as determined as I am that this film is made and broadcast to as wide an audience as possible. They’re a not-for-profit entirely devoted to raising awareness of the wgp and raising funds to help continued efforts to save it from extinction. It’s been fantastic working with them, and inspiring to see their tireless dedication to the cause.

I’d like to think filming is nearly complete, but this story is constantly evolving so we’ll just have to see what happens!

Watch the trailer for Secrets at Sunrise

Like Secrets at Sunrise on Facebook

Discover more parrot species on Arkive


Jun 5

As you know, back in May we celebrated our 11th birthday, and to mark the occasion we asked our followers to vote for their favourite Arkive highlight from the past year. A huge thank you to everyone who filled out the survey, it has been fantastic to get your feedback on what we have been doing and to find out what you felt was the most important focus for Arkive.

The results are now in and we are thrilled to announce that you chose our work profiling the world’s most endangered species as your winner. This has been a key aim for Arkive since the very beginning, and today we have over 16,000 species profiles in our collection. Of course, this work wouldn’t be possible without the support of the world’s best wildlife filmmakers and photographers, conservationists and scientists, who contribute their imagery and lend their support and advice.

Why not dive in and discover something new today?

Cotton-headed tamarin

The stunning cotton-headed tamarin is one of South America’s most endangered primates

Our 11th birthday also seemed like the ideal opportunity to give the Arkive website a fresh new look and feel, making the most of our amazing imagery. Check out our beautiful new homepage today.

May 24

Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii)

Species: Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The Russian sturgeon can reach lengths of nearly two and a half metres.

More information: The Russian sturgeon belongs to an ancient and unique group of fish, relics from the time of the dinosaurs. This prehistoric giant was formerly found in the Black, Azov, and Caspian Seas in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, as well as the deep sections of fast-flowing rivers, such as the Volga, Danube, and Ural Rivers. Populations of this species are now mostly found in the lower reaches of these river systems and along coastlines.

The male Russian sturgeon does not reproduce until it is between 8 and 13 years old and only do so every 2 or 3 years, while the female does not reach sexual maturity until it is 10 to 16 years old and then only reproduces every 4 to 6 years. There are two distinct forms of this fish species, the anadromous type which migrates up rivers from the sea to spawn and the freshwater form which remains in its freshwater habitat to spawn, although this form is now thought to be extinct. For the anadromous type, there are two separate migrations, one in spring when spawning occurs in the lower levels of the river and one in autumn when individuals migrate into freshwater where they spend the winter before spawning upstream the following spring.

Vast areas of the Russian sturgeon’s spawning grounds have been lost due to damming and exploitation. Dam construction is highly detrimental to this and other migratory fish species, as the usual migration routes to its spawning grounds are blocked, meaning that individuals either do not reproduce, or spawn in unsafe areas. Pollution in the Caspian and Black Sea basins is causing hormonal imbalances in this species and subsequently a greater number of hermaphroditic, infertile individuals are found in these areas.

The Russian sturgeon was once very important commercially, and its caviar was one of the most sought after of any species. Illegal fishing still continues, despite legal catch quotas being in place, with the illegal catch thought to far surpass the legally set limits. The Russian sturgeon is unprotected in many areas throughout its range and the absence of a strict monitoring system makes the control of fishing very difficult. Despite restocking efforts, the creation of artificial spawning grounds, and the introduction of fish lifts to help individuals to get around dams, the population is still in decline and over the last 15 years, global catches have dropped by 98 percent. As a slowly maturing species, it does not have the ability to recover from overexploitation, especially without complete cessation of fishing.

Celebrate World Fish Migration Day and find out more about why we need to protect these species and their habitats.

Find out more about sturgeon conservation.

See images of the Russian sturgeon on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Mar 8

Boreal felt lichen (Erioderma pedicellatum)

Species: Boreal felt lichen (Erioderma pedicellatum)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The boreal felt lichen is known as the ‘panda bear’ of lichens because of its extreme rarity.

The boreal felt lichen is a ‘leafy’ species that grows on the branches and trunks of trees. When hydrated, it has a bluish-grey colour, but when dry it is darker grey-brown. The edges of this lichen typically curl up to expose whitish undersides.

The boreal lichen consists of two different organisms, a ‘mycobiont’ (a fungus) and a ‘phycobiont’ (a cyanobacterium – a bacterium that can photosynthesise), which live together in a symbiotic association.  The presence of the cyanobacteria makes the boreal felt lichen particularly sensitive to atmospheric pollution such as acid rain.

The boreal felt lichen was formerly known from Norway, Sweden, and Canada. Today, the species is thought to be restricted to two disjunct populations: a boreal population on Newfoundland, and a vastly depleted Atlantic population on Nova Scotia. The remaining populations are found in cool, moist, old-growth coniferous forests, and grow predominately on the trunks of balsam fir (Abies balsamea).

In addition to being highly sensitive to atmospheric pollutants such as acid rain, the boreal felt lichen is extremely vulnerable to habitat loss. Logging and air pollution have contributed towards a decline of more than 90% of the Atlantic population.

The Atlantic population of the boreal felt lichen is protected in Canada under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), and is the focus of an ongoing recovery strategy. Crucially, efforts are being made, through land purchases and agreements with landowners, to formally protect areas of forest that are home to this rare species. Furthermore, conservationists are engaging with private and government forest managers to encourage their participation in the mapping of boreal felt lichen habitats and the implementation of management plans that will prevent further habitat loss.

Find out more about the boreal felt lichen at the Government of Canada Species at Risk Public Registry.

See images of the boreal felt lichen on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author.

Mar 1
Female addax and young

Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

Species: Addax (Addax nasomaculatus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: An addax is able to obtain all the water it requires from the food it consumes.

The addax is a desert antelope that is well adapted to its harsh habitat. It has splayed hooves that help it to travel more easily across sand. Its short, glossy coat is grey-brown in winter, fading to almost white during the summer, and both sexes possess the distinctive long, twisted horns.

These antelope are mainly active during the night. In the day, they dig ‘beds’ into the sand in shady areas to avoid the heat of the desert sun, which also shelters them from sandstorms. Small nomadic herds of this species spend the majority of their time wandering in search of food. These herds previously contained around 20 individuals, but today they are found in groups of four or less.

Once found across northern Africa, wild addax populations now only exist in a fragment of their former range. This dramatic decrease is mainly attributed to over-hunting, as their meat and leather is prized by local people. Other factors contributing to their decline include desertification, drought and habitat encroachment. It is estimated that fewer than five hundred individuals survive in the wild today, with the bulk of these found between the Termit region in eastern Niger and the Bodélé region in western Chad.

International trade of the addax is prohibited and the Sahara Conservation Fund has developed a regional strategy to protect the remaining wild populations and facilitate the re-colonisation of suitable habitats. A protected population exists in the Yotvata Hai-Bar Nature Reserve in Israel that was set up in 1968 to bolster populations of endangered desert species. There are currently around 2,000 individuals in captivity around the world that are being used in reintroduction programmes in Tunisia and Morocco.

Find out more about the addax at the Sahara Conservation Fund and WildAddax.

See images and videos of the addax on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author


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